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FIRST PERSON: Sorry send-off for Wellstone

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“In politics stupidity is not a handicap,” Napoleon Bonaparte once observed. Had the great general been in attendance at the service held recently in memory of Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, he would probably add “decorum” to his statement.

The purpose of a memorial/funeral service is to reflect on the memory of the person or persons who have died and provide solace to those who mourn. In the case of the ceremony held in Minnesota, it was persons: Wellstone’s wife, daughter, campaign aides and pilots, eight in all, were to be remembered in one service. All perished in a tragic plane crash on Oct. 25 while campaigning for Wellstone’s re-election.

Dignitaries from all political persuasions traveled to Minnesota to pay their respects. They came because it was the right thing to do and, after all, death is not partisan. Wellstone’s opponent, Republican Norm Coleman, pulled all his campaign ads — print and electronic — upon learning of the senator’s demise. It was the appropriate thing to do because grief is not partisan. At least it wasn’t until the ceremony held in memory of Wellstone and friends.

Many observers of the memorial held at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis question the propriety of not only some of those taking part in the service, but the crowd as well. It seems many at Wellstone’s memorial really do believe that all is fair in love, war and politics — so much so they danced on the dead senator’s grave in order to further the political fortunes of the Democratic Party.

According to reports in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, some notable attendees were treated to cheers upon entering the service while others were treated to jeers.

The arrival of former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton from New York, as well as former vice presidents Al Gore and Walter Mondale, “drew a huge cheer from the crowd.” When Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and former Minnesota Sen. Rod Grams entered the arena, a loud chorus of boos greeted them. This behavior might be expected at a partisan political rally, but at a memorial service it was totally and completely uncouth.

By all accounts, the first portion of the service was dignified and included prayers and eulogies for the other crash victims, along with anecdotes that brought tears and laughter. However, somewhere near the mid-point of the memorial, Rick Kahn — a friend of Wellstone and his campaign treasurer — hijacked the ceremony and turned it into a raucous campaign rally. It was at this point that Gov. Ventura left the building.

In interviews Ventura used the words “disgusting, disgraceful and offensive” to describe the experience. He said the service drove his wife to tears. Since the Minnesota governor spent significant time as a participant in the world of “professional wrestling,” one would assume he knows something about disgusting, disgraceful and offensive displays since that pretty much sums up the World Wrestling Entertainment.

If Ventura had endured the remainder of the service, he would have been treated to Sen. Wellstone’s son, Mark, leading the crowd in a rousing chant of “We will win!” All the while, most everyone in attendance clapped, laughed and in general “whooped” it up.

As a minister, I have attended and/or participated in more funerals and memorials than the average person. It is simply an occupational reality. While each service takes on a unique atmosphere, and certainly humor has its place, most are conducted with a certain degree of dignity. I have, however, on occasion, observed inappropriate behavior in a funeral/memorial service.

One time a member of the deceased’s family answered a cell phone and began talking while exiting the service. Another time, at a graveside ceremony, friends of the man who had died offered — on cue and in unison — a very crude and offensive gesture as a final “salute” to their buddy. In both instances, those in attendance signaled their disapproval with silence and icy stares.

Most disturbing about the Minnesota memorial service was that no one did anything to alter the tone. The crowd could have changed the direction by simply not responding to the partisan speeches. Any one of the distinguished attendees could have risen and spoken an appropriate word to steer the service back on track. However, the vast majority seemed quite content with the partisan atmosphere.

Anyone who participated in the antics that occurred at the memorial for Wellstone and friends — or attempts to condone them — is either blinded by partisan politics, lacking in social graces or completely stupid. Whatever the case, someone should be ashamed for them.
Boggs is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs